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Dutch PM Mark Rutte is one of Europe's longest serving leaders Alamy Stock Photo
Netherlands

Dutch government collapses over immigration row

The opposition Socialist Party called for elections in the autumn and said it would start campaigning in September.

DUTCH PRIME MINISTER Mark Rutte’s coalition government has collapsed due to a bitter row about migration measures, with opposition parties calling for swift elections.

Rutte, 56, the Netherlands’ longest-serving leader, chaired crisis talks between the four coalition parties but they were unable to reach a deal, Dutch broadcasters said.

The coalition, Rutte’s fourth since 2010, took office in January 2022 after record-breaking negotiations but the parties have been at odds ever since over issues including the flow of migrants.

Rutte, the leader of the centre-right VVD party, had wanted to tighten curbs on reuniting families of asylum seekers, following a scandal last year about overcrowded migration centres in the Netherlands.

Rutte was set to offer his resignation to Dutch king Willem-Alexander later this evening, meaning he would not try to stay in office with a minority government, broadcaster NOS reported.

“This evening we have unfortunately reached the conclusion that the differences are insurmountable. For this reason, I will shortly present my written resignation to the king in the name of the whole government,” Rutte told a press conference.

“It’s very disappointing but we are all adults here,” economy and climate minister Micky Adriaansens, from Rutte’s VVD party, told reporters as the talks broke up.

The opposition Socialist Party called for elections in the autumn and said it would start campaigning in September.

‘Not a happy marriage’ 

Local media said Rutte – dubbed “Teflon Mark” – had taken a tough stance on migration to deflect a challenge from the right-wing of his party.

He reportedly demanded that the number of relatives of war refugees allowed into the Netherlands be capped at 200 per month, and threatened to topple the government if the measure did not pass.

The coalition – which local media said was “not a happy marriage” – last year faced a major scandal over overcrowded migration centres in which a baby died and hundreds of people were forced to sleep in the open.

Rutte had promised a “structural solution” to the problem after what he called “shameful scenes” at the asylum centres.

But the Christen Unie – a Christian Democratic party that draws its main support from the staunchly Protestant “Bible Belt” in the central Netherlands – strongly opposed the plan to cap refugee family member numbers.

After three days of talks, a compromise on a so-called “emergency button” – that would have only triggered the restrictions in case of large migrant numbers – was not enough to reach a deal today.

‘Worried’ 

A crowd of onlookers began to gather outside the government buildings where the talks took place in the historic centre of The Hague, an AFP reporter said.

“I’m quite concerned. I’m worried what the next cabinet is going to look like,” said 19-year-old IT worker Marijn Philippo.

“I hope that the next cabinet will do better than this one, especially in terms of asylum,” added Pieter Balkenende, 32.

Europe’s second-longest-serving leader after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is now expected to call elections.

Rutte has long been under pressure on the issue of migration due to the strength of far-right parties in the Netherlands, including that of anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders.

And elections promise to be stormy, after an upstart party led by farmers against the government’s European Union-backed environmental rules won the most seats in senate elections earlier this year.

Rutte’s backroom political skills have seen him navigate his way to the top of four successive coalition governments – but he has had several close escapes.

His previous government was forced to resign en masse in 2021 over a child benefits scandal that largely targeted ethnic minority families.

In 2017 he was widely criticised for tacking to the right ahead of elections in a bid to keep Wilders out of power, at a time when populist parties were surging in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump.

- AFP 2023

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